Carson Wentz’s two quarterback sneaks Sunday weren’t as thrilling as Jake Elliott’s 61-yard field goal, or Wentz’s 19-yard beat-the-clock sideline completion to Alshon Jeffery that made the field-goal try possible, or the game-tying 15-yard touchdown run by Corey Clement with 5½ minutes to go in the game.
Neither one of the fourth-and-1 plays made a television highlight reel. But the fact of the matter is, without them, the Eagles almost certainly would be a 1-2 football team today rather than a 2-1 one.
The first one kept alive that 18-play, 90-yard first-half scoring drive that culminated with LeGarrette Blount’s 1-yard touchdown run.
The second one, midway through the third quarter, gave the Eagles a first down at the Giants’ 44-yard line. On the very next play, Giants cornerback Eli Apple was flagged for interfering with Jeffery on a deep ball from Wentz, giving the Eagles a first-and-goal at the three. Three plays later, Wentz hit tight end Zach Ertz for a touchdown to give the Eagles a 14-0 lead.
“If you look back at those plays closely on film, they’re kind of fun to watch,’’ offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. “Normally, you think, ‘Oh, it’s a quarterback sneak.’ But there was good movement on both of them. We’ve got two really powerful guards (Chance Warmack and Brandon Brooks on the two sneaks). And then [center Jason] Kelce is explosive off the ball.
“A lot of times, it’s like in a tug-of-war. You don’t have to win for very long. It’s who gets the first blow, and Kelce is so quick that, even though he doesn’t weigh 340 pounds like Brandon does, that quick first blow is all you need to get. And then Carson just has a good knack of getting in there.’’
Eagles coach Doug Pederson has made it pretty clear that he has no trepidation about going for it on fourth down, regardless of the distance or field position. Going forward, given the 6-5, 235-pound Wentz’s knack on sneaks, fourth-and-1 will be a no-brainer for him. Take a seat, Donnie Jones. Full speed ahead, Carson.
Wentz used a quick snap count on the second sneak, which caught the Giants on their heels. But his interior line’s ability to get push and Wentz’s own strength and athleticism, give the Eagles a definite advantage on QB sneaks.
“It’s really the big guys up front,’’ Wentz said. “It comes down to the center and the two guards and everybody getting that push. I just keep driving my legs and follow them and try to pick up the first down.’’
Wentz tried just one quarterback sneak last year. That was in the Eagles’ Week 14 loss to the Redskins. He picked up 2 yards on the play, running behind Kelce and the guards that day, Isaac Seumalo and Stefen Wisniewski.
Brooks said there is no science to a quarterback sneak. It’s strictly power versus power.
“You’re just trying to get off the ball and beat the dude across from you. You’re just trying to beat him to a spot and drive him back.
“The one advantage you have is the snap count just because we know it. But you know it’s coming, they know it’s coming, everybody in the stadium knows it’s coming. Low man wins. You just have to keep your feet moving.’’
Pederson, who appears to be in the midst of a transformation from an old-school, go-with-your-gut coach to a new-school analytics guy, said, “[The sneak] is a nice weapon to have because the stats prove that that is the most effective short-yardage play.’’
Particularly if you have road-grader guards and an athletic quarterback.
“I would have to believe that his size and strength play a factor both in being effective and protecting himself,’’ Pederson said.
One of the most effective quarterback-sneak guys in the league is the Patriots’ Tom Brady. Brady isn’t a running quarterback. Has just 955 rushing yards in 17 seasons in the league, which averages out to 4 rushing yards per game. But he has converted 29 of 34 fourth-and-1 sneaks (85.2 percent) in his career.
Brady has rushed for 955 yards in 238 starts, which averages out to a whopping 4 rushing yards per game. But he has converted 104 of 125 (83.2 percent) and-one runs in his career, largely on sneaks.
Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said the best he’s ever seen at quarterback sneaks was the late Steve McNair.
“Steve was so strong,’’ said Schwartz, who spent seven years with McNair when he was an assistant with the Tennessee Titans. “He was like a fullback. If we needed a half-yard, he could get it.
“Brady’s good just because he’s so smart. But there are some guys that are just really difficult to stop. Some of the bigger quarterbacks. Daunte Culpepper was really hard to stop. I mean, he was 250 pounds early in his career, and that was being kind.
“Everybody has a little bit different style. Some guys are taking it if it’s there. Some guys are just sticking a shoulder down and powering through. There have been some guys who go over the top. Everybody’s a little bit different.’’
Former Jet and Dolphins quarterback Chad Pennington rushed for just 465 yards in his 89-game career. But he converted 95.6 percent of his sneaks (22 of 23).
“He was an outstanding quarterback sneak guy,’’ Schwartz said. He was a little bit more crafty.
FIGURING THE EAGLES
— Last season, the Eagles finished 20th in the league in third-down efficiency (37.9%). Through the first three weeks of this season, they are tied for third (48.8%).
The interesting thing is that 21 of their 43 third-down situations have been 8 yards or more. That’s the fourth most in the NFL and puts them ahead of last year’s third-and-long pace when they had 103, which was the third most in the league behind only Cleveland and San Francisco.
The Eagles have converted 38.1 percent of their third-and-longs in the first three games (8 of 21). Last year, they converted just 21.3% of them (22 of 103).
Carson Wentz finished 28th in third-down passing last year with a 67.0 rating. He completed just 55.8 percent of his third-down attempts, averaged 6.10 yards per attempt and threw three TDs and five interceptions.
Through three games this year, Wentz is ninth in third-down passing (107.8) with a 64.7 completion percentage, 8.32 yards per attempt, three TDs and one interception.
— The Eagles managed to beat the Giants Sunday despite a 13.2-yard difference in average drive start. The Giants’ average drive start was the 34.6-yard line. The Eagles’ was the 21.4. The Eagles’ average drive start through three games (26.3) is nearly six yards less their opponents (32.2).
— The Eagles are tied for the league lead in offensive plays per game (69). They ran 73 plays against the Giants on Sunday.
— Jim Schwartz called just six blitzes on 47 pass plays against the Giants (12.8%). Eli Manning was 3-for-6 for 22 yards when the Eagles sent extra rushers. He was 32-for-41 for 344 yards, three TDs and two INTs vs. a four-man rush. The Eagles have blitzed on just 11 of 85 pass plays (12.9%) in their last two games after blitzing 13 times on 44 pass play (29.5%) against the Redskins in Week 1.
— Carson Wentz attempted just four passes longer than 10 yards against the Giants. Twenty-four of his 31 passes traveled 0 to 10 yards. Another three were thrown behind the line of scrimmage. Wentz threw just one pass 20 yards or longer. That was an incompletion to Torrey Smith. His best deep ball actually was one that didn’t officially happen — a third-quarter throw to Jeffery that drew a 41-yard pass interference penalty on Giants cornerback Eli Apple and gave the Eagles a first-and-goal at the 3-yard line. Wentz is 3-for-16 on throws of 20-plus yards.
FROM THE LIP
— “To be honest with you – and maybe I’ll get into trouble for saying this – [I] don’t plan on going over there any time soon to play again. So, somebody else can have that job.’’ – Ravens coach John Harbaugh on a return visit to London after his team’s 44-7 loss there to the Jaguars
— “I am very unhappy with Odell’s behavior on Sunday and we intend to deal with it internally.’’ – Giants co-owner John Mara after his immature star wide receiver, Odell Beckham, celebrated a touchdown catch against the Eagles by crawling on the ground and lifting his leg to imitate a dog urinating
— “I certainly have an interest in politics and in our country. I just have zero interest in being a politician.’’ – Peyton Manning on the possibility of ever running for office
— “To be quite honest, he’s kind of lazy. He’s lazy. He gets beat on the inside. I think the biggest thing is he’s got to compete more. Yeah, he’s pretty lazy. I feel the rest of the offensive line, they do pretty well. But to me, he’s pretty lazy.’’ – Vikings DE Everson Griffen on Lions OT Greg Robinson
BY THE NUMBERS
— With his 100th touchdown pass with the Cardinals last week, Carson Palmer became just the fourth quarterback in league history to throw 100 or more touchdown passes with two different teams. He also had 154 with the Bengals. The other three players to do it: Kurt Warner, Fran Tarkenton and Peyton Manning.
— Chiefs RB Kareem Hunt has scored six touchdowns in his first three career games, tying Billy Sims and Dutch Sternaman of the 1920 Decatur Staleys for the most touchdowns by a player in his first three career games.
— Seven quarterbacks passed for at least three touchdowns without an interception in Week 3. That’s the second most such games in a single week in league history. Nine quarterbacks did it in Week 14 of the 2013 season.